For 85% of the regular season, it was the Braves’ bats that carried the team. The offense – from the middle of May on – rarely slowed down, while the pitching staff was always a little shaky.
The season began with more questions than answers in the starting rotation. The fourth and fifth spots were a revolving door of Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, Kevin Gausman, and Mike Foltynewicz. And do I even have to get into how bad the bullpen was at one point? Pitching was undeniably the most apparent flaw of this team all season, but in the playoffs, it has been the usually potent Atlanta offense failing to produce.
The Braves were in an outstanding position to finish off the NLDS. Ozzie Albies had just hit a two-run homer to put Atlanta up 4-3, the Braves bullpen was rolling, and you could feel the energy being sucked out of the St. Louis crowd in what was a must-win Game 4 for them.
The very next inning, the Braves would load the bases for the red-hot Adam Duvall. It was an opportunity to put a bow on their first playoff series win since 2001, but Duvall could not deliver as he struck out swinging. However, Ronald Acuña would provide his team with another golden opportunity in the seventh to add a critical insurance run. He tripled to lead off the inning on a ball that Dexter Fowler lost in the sun.
It was a gift from the baseball gods for all of the torment they have put us through over the last 20+ years. But once again, the Braves could not cash in – even with no outs and the heart of the order coming to the plate. Ozzie Albies would hit a laser to second base, but with the infield in, Acuña could not score. Freddie Freeman continued to struggle with his third strikeout of the afternoon. Then the Cardinals walked Donaldson and Markakis, loading the bases for Adeiny Hechavarria. Hech got a hold of one, but it died out near the edge of the warning track, and the Braves failed to capitalize on a bases-loaded opportunity for the second straight inning. That wouldn’t be the last chance Atlanta would squander, either.
Ronald Acuña struck again with a leadoff double in the ninth. However, similarly, the heart of the Braves’ lineup could not cash in. Ozzie Albies popped up, Freddie Freeman grounded to second, and Josh Donaldson ended the frame with a fly out to leftfield. Inevitably, the game headed to extras where the Braves would lose on a Yadier Molina flyball in the tenth inning.
Atlanta finished the game a dismal 0-9 with runners in scoring position, which has been a trend for them the entire series. They are 4-38 with RISP in the NLDS, and in their Game 1 loss, which was another heartbreaker, they went 1-11 with RISP. And it has been mostly the Braves best bats that have not shown up. Here is a look at how Atlanta’s 3-4-5 hitters have fared against St. Louis.
Freddie Freeman .125/.222/.313 (hasn’t had a hit since Game 1)
Josh Donaldson .133/.278/.200
Nick Markakis .176/.222/.235
This has been a phenomenal series, and you have to give the Cardinals pitching staff credit. They have done a fantastic job of making their pitches in crucial moments. However, the starting rotation for the Braves has given this team more than a fair shot at winning each game in this series, and the bats have failed to live up to their billing, which hasn’t been the case all season. Now, Atlanta is forced into a winner take all Game 5 with the Cardinals Ace on the mound. There won’t be many scoring opportunities, so the Braves are going to have to make the most of them, or this will go down as another dreadful playoff performance in Atlanta sports history.